The day before Afghans go to the polling stations in the presidential run off and the majority of people I have spoken with (though certainly not all) in Kabul seem to think that Abdullah is ahead. Interestingly, a couple of my researchers who had traveled to both Herat and Jalalabad were far less convinced than another research I am working with who had only been working in Kabul about Abdullah’s victory. While most in Kabul feel that Abdullah has done a good job in securing endorsements (see the scorecard here), which should help him build on his lead, a poll released yesterday of about 2,000 Afghans, surprised many when it put Ghani in the lead (see the article here).
If Ghani is ahead, what are most of the people in Kabul missing? Here’s the case made by a friend and former government official who was convinced that Ghani would win. His argument has some persuasive logic to it:
Ghani is going to win because in the first round Abdullah received the maximum number of votes that he is able to receive (the argument here relies heavily on ethnicity, see our previous post on this). If most of the Tajiks and other non-Pashtun minorities already voted for Abdullah (with the exception of Uzbek votes for Ghani who has Dostum, the Uzbek commander as his running mate), then there are few votes left for him to pick up. The argument here is that Pashtun voters primarily want to see a Pashtun president (i.e. Ghani). While in the first round the Pashtun votes were split, primarily between Rassoul and Ghani, in the second round, my friend assures me, they will all go to Ghani. This is an interesting argument because it means even though Rassoul has pledged his support for Abdullah, most of his supporters will eventually vote for Ghani. It also means that all the endorsements that Abdullah picked up are more or less useless if they are not bringing voters with them (see our post on that here). I’m not sure that this is entirely true, but it is worth noting that Rassoul did not run a particularly inspiring campaign and it’s very feasible that his declaration of support for Abdullah does not necessarily translate into his voters moving smoothly to Abdullah’s side.
In addition to this, Ahmed Zia Massoud former running mate of Rassoul has pledged his support for Ghani. As one of the key Panjshiri Tajiks (and former brother of Ahmed Shah and son-in-law of Rabbani) his support could further divides Tajik vote, and it is certainly could be argued that Massoud is more likely to bring his votes to Ghani than Rassoul is likely to bring his votes to Abdullah.
Still, Abdullah had a rather commanding lead in round one. Is it possible that that lead has evaporated completely? I’m skeptical, but there is certainly a case to be made for Ghani having a strong showing tomorrow.
One of the interesting pieces of the continued debates, dialogues and conflict over the result of the first round of voting in Afghanistan is the way in which many warlords and former commanders have not just remained in the process, but are beginning to try to use the process to their advantage. High voter turnout, but also the continued inclusion of rather notorious figures like Dostum and Atta, demonstrates the fact that elections have become an important part of Afghan political processes. For some more complete thoughts on this issue see this piece in the Washington Post by Dipali Mukhopadhyay and Frances Z. Brown linked here
Presidential hopefuls are pledging to bring security left, right and centre. So it’s not unreasonable that a number of western commentators are asking how the leading candidates are planning to bring it about, and how the Bilateral Security Agreement will feature in the plans. The problem is, other than signing the BSA, they don’t really say. A few myths need to be dispelled in this regard:
1) People are voting for the candidate with the best security plan: FALSE. People are voting for a number of reasons (see our previous post here), including for the candidate who they think has the best chance of bringing about security, but this is not the same as voting for the best plan.
2) Candidates need to spell out their security plans to voters: FALSE. Why, if people are not voting for the details anyway? Just look at Ghani’s website, for example – the ONLY statement on security reads as follows:
Given security concerns and a lack of resources, it is not surprising that most of the analysis of the lead up to the elections is highly Kabul-centric (there are of course some exceptions such as this Reuters piece on political maneuvering in Kandahar or this NYT piece on the North). To suggest some of the range of opinions and approaches that might be missing from these current conversations, we asked a researcher who conducted interviews in both Nangarhar and Kabul province to contrast some of the issues from each region:
1) Secure versus insecure areas: While all respondents were aware that insecure areas would impact the elections, those in Jalalabad in particular, perhaps due to the close proximity of pockets of insecurity, were more acutely aware of the line between secure and insecure areas. Areas such as Sherzad were pointed to as places where even if insurgents did not directly threaten polling stations, people were still likely to be afraid to vote. Concern about this was heighten by questions about where polling stations would be opened or closed. Unsurprisingly most in Kabul were less acutely aware of the impact of closing polling stations.
2) Varying support for presidential candidates: Presidential candidates clearly have areas where Continue reading →